Mayor’s office woos private and public employers in bid to bring workers back downtown
Mayor Ted Wheeler’s office is courting private and public employers in a bid to get employees back to their offices across the city as Portland lags peer cities in post-pandemic recovery.
Key private and public institutions involved in back-to-work policy discussions with the mayor’s office include Oregon Health & Science University, Portland State University, TriMet, Standard Insurance, Portland General Electric and the real estate company Melvin Mark Companies. Discussions focus on offices in the city centre, South Waterfront, Lloyd District and Central Eastside.
These talks, led by the mayor’s office and still preliminary, could accelerate the recovery of the city. Officials from the mayor’s office are also evaluating what an incentive program might look like to ease the transition for employers. They are considering incentives such as discounted or free child care, dog day care and travel reimbursements.
“The mayor and city council want to compare notes with other major downtown employers and work in tandem to address employee concerns about returning to the office,” said deputy mayor Sam Adams. WW.
The mayor’s office sees San Francisco as an example of a major city that has struck a similar deal with private companies to bring back employees.
Such a proposal would need to be approved by a majority vote of the Portland City Council. Most city commissioners have taken the subject of returning to office lightly, their apprehension about mandating a return being due at least in part to a letter from representatives of more than a thousand city employees sent in June and reported for the first time by WWwho said a mandatory return would be sexist, ableist and racist.
City Hall has its own issues to overcome: Thousands of upset city employees who have adjusted to remote working, unions are already filing complaints about the back-to-work policy in city offices and inner-city struggles against visible drug use, homelessness and gun violence.
But the pressure is on Wheeler and his board colleagues to act.
A July report from ECONorthwest, delivered to the mayor’s office and first reported by WW, showed 55% fewer employees working in downtown Portland than before the pandemic. And a national study by the University of California, Berkeley ranked Portland 60th out of 62 major cities based on cellphone data.
Meanwhile, some downtown hotels are facing foreclosures and major employers are reducing leases to allow remote work. The downtown office vacancy rate is 26%.
Wheeler launched new policies to remedy the situation. He is increasing policing in the Old City, sweeping up homeless camps and working on incentives to encourage developers to convert vacant office space into housing.
Meanwhile, a task force under the city’s chief executive is expected to make recommendations on back-to-office policy to city council in the coming weeks. In a Sept. 15 email, Chief Executive Michael Jordan told city workers the council was discussing “negotiating implications surrounding any decision they may make on the future of work.”